It’s hard to really take much away from what is essentially a preseason game played on a baseball diamond, but there are a few trends that you can look for.
1) Jacory Harris protecting the ball. This might seem trivial against a team like FAMU, but bad habits against bad teams generally don’t translate into good habits against good teams. Harris somehow managed to throw 2 interceptions against FAMU last year (to go along with 2 TDs) and later admitted to forcing the ball into coverage before the half because he knew he was coming out of the game. That sort of attitude does carry over to other games. But I would be surprised if Jacory has a high interception total in this game. Instead, we need to look beyond the box score at how Jacory is playing versus what his stats are. It is very possible for Jacory to make bad reads and be rewarded for them by his WRs overmatching the FAMU secondary. If Jacory is going through progressions (which he should have plenty of time to do against FAMU), making the proper reads, and finding the open man it could be a portend of good things to come for Harris and the Hurricanes this season.
2) The RBs. This is probably the most crowded and unsettled position. Last year, Damien Berry received carries against FAMU and performed so well (14 carries for 165 YDs and 1 TD) that he forced his way into the RB rotation. Going RB by RB:
- Damien Berry – this game will likely not have much of an impact on Berry’s playing time. Whatever his role is, it is likely already defined and will remain unchanged. Berry will run hard, hit the hole directly, and head north-south.
- Mike James – this game is critical for Mike James to prove that he belongs in the RB rotation. With news that John Calhoun will be missing the season with an injury, the Hurricanes will need a FB to backup Pat Hill. Given that James filled in at that position last year and is a good complement to Hill, he would seem like the natural fit. If he doesn’t prove against FAMU that he is a big upgrade over other RBs at the tailback position, he might be moved back to FB.
- Pat Hill – he is the FB. Last year, when he was injured, the Hurricanes’ running game suffered. In any formation where you see the Hurricanes use a FB, expect to see Pat Hill in there. With Calhoun’s injury, there is no clear backup.
- Lamar Miller – the talented, big play, redshirt Freshman finally gets a chance. He has shown a big play ability in practice and now it must translate to a real game. The key for him is to avoid jitters, run with confidence, and execute the plays. It will be hard for the coaching staff to trust him in Columbus if he allows nerves to effect his performance in a home game against FAMU. If he has a big game (see Damien Berry last year), he should see a lot of action at Ohio State.
- Storm Johnson – will he or won’t he redshirt? If he plays a lot and plays well, it’s hard to see a wink-wink injury redshirt in his future. He is also in the mix to return kicks and punts, and that special teams contribution might keep from being redshirted, even if he only plays sporadically at tailback. Obviously, if he sees no time against FAMU, mark him down for a redshirt.
- Eduardo Clements – the forgotten man in the Hurricanes’ backfield, Clements finds himself apparently behind Johnson on the depth chart. That would lead to a likely redshirt, especially if he does not play against FAMU. The only way I see Clements avoiding a redshirt is if he wins the kick or punt return job. In past years, I would expect almost an automatic redshirt, but with Shannon gearing up for a big year, he would likely play Clements even if just on special teams.
- Maurice Hagens – I thought this was a sure redshirt, until Calhoun’s injury. Now, Hagens’ fate for this year is likely tied up in how the Hurricanes treat Mike James. Mark Whipple uses a lot of 2 TE formations, so the Hurricanes could get by with Pat Hill being the lone FB, Mike James being part of the TB rotation, and then being moved to FB in an emergency. Or they could move James to FB permanently, using him a Quad Hill type of role. Or they could leave James exclusives at TB and use Hagens as the backup FB. The good news with opening with FAMU is a lot of backups that might not figure into a normal game will get to play, and that means that we will get to see who the backup FB is. If it is Hagens, then that likely means that he is going to avoid a redshirt and probably also contribute on special teams.
- Graig Cooper – questions abound here. Is he going to play? If so, is he fully healthy? What role will he play? If Cooper plays, it will have a ripple effect on the rest of the RBs (including who redshirts). If he simply plays in specialty packages in a limited role, it likely won’t have much effect on the rest of the Hurricanes’ RBs. If he sees a role similar to last year, then the backfield is just too crowded and redshirts are likely for at least Clements if not Storm Johnson. If the ‘Canes don’t trust Cooper’s knee against FAMU, it will give the other RBs the opportunity to cement their place in the rotation.
3) Matt Bosher. The Hurricanes are fortunate to return one of the best kickers and punters in the country in senior Matt Bosher. But, this position is fickle. Even professional kickers have lost it seemingly overnight and gone from an automatic make to an automatic miss. If Bosher misses kicks against FAMU, start worrying.
4) The secondary. FAMU is a run first team. Last year, against the ‘Canes, FAMU’s run-pass split was 35-25. A similar split should give the Hurricanes ample opportunity to intercept the ball. While much has been made of the Hurricanes’ inability to turn the ball over, it really is the interceptions holding them back. Last year, the Hurricanes ranked 27th in fumbles recovered with 12, while ranking 87th in interceptions with only 9 (an ironic mirror image of the offense, which ranked 2nd with only 4 fumbles lost, but 105th in interceptions thrown with 17). The Hurricanes need to reverse that trend, and if they cannot intercept the ball against FAMU, it’s hard to imagine them doing so against more formidable opponents. You could easily see the Hurricanes equaling 20-30% of last year’s interception total in this game provided FAMU throws enough, and that is what I am looking for.
5) The Tight Ends. It looks like senior Richard Gordon will be starting at this position, but after that, it will be all newcomers. Chase Ford won’t redshirt and it appears that he is in the mix for 2nd string TE (which could easily translate into starting TE given Gordon’s dubious hold on the spot). Billy Sanders has already redshirted and it appears that Asante Cleveland has played well enough in practice to avoid a redshirt and maybe play a major role. Also in the mix (but possibly redshirting) are Clive Walford, and Andrew Tallman. Inexperience at this position can be costly (see Jimmy Graham dropping critical passes at Virginia Tech last year), but the Hurricanes don’t have a choice. With so little known about the rotation, the FAMU game will tell us who will play, who will redshirt, and what their roles may be.